Rep. Johnson Questions Sec. Nielsen on Death of Child at Border
Congressman asks hard-hitting questions on family separation, administration’s failure to properly track the children and reunite them with their families
WASHINGTON, D.C. – Congressman Hank Johnson (GA-04), the Ranking Member of the Judiciary Subcommittee on Courts, Intellectual Property and the Internet (IP), today questioned Kirstjen Nielsen, Secretary of Homeland Security, about the Death of Jakelin Caal, a seven-year-old girl who died on Dec. 8 in Customs & Border Patrol custody. He also had some hard-hitting questions on family separation and the administration's failure to properly track the children and reunite them with their families.
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Chairman Goodlatte: The chair recognizes the gentleman from Georgia for five minutes.
Rep. Johnson: Thank you. Ma’am, when did you first learn of the death of 7-year-old Jakelin Caal?
Secretary Nielsen: I believe my front office staff was notified on the 7th and then commissioner gave me a full readout e-mail on the 13th.
Rep. Johnson: The 13th?
Secretary Nielsen: Yes, sir.
Rep. Johnson: Did you inquire between the seventh and the 13th?
Secretary Nielsen: As you know, the facts continued to come to light now, but yes, sir.
Rep. Johnson: What actions did you take between the 7th and the 13th?
Secretary Nielsen: Some of it is just to understand what happened. As you know, this was an extraordinarily remote location. So, we’ve begun investigations, and the IG (Inspector General) is looking into it among others but try to understand what other options might have been available.
Rep. Johnson: Thank you. How many children 17 years old or younger have died in DHS (Department of Homeland Security), ICE (Immigration and Customs Enforcement), or CBP (Customs & Border Patrol) custody since you took office?
Secretary Nielsen: I will get back to you. What I can tell you.
Rep. Johnson: How many have died?
Secretary Nielsen: I understand your question, sir. I'll get back to you.
Rep. Johnson: Can you give me an approximate figure?
Secretary Nielsen: I will get back to you. I'm not going to guess under oath.
Rep. Johnson: Do you view those who you call “illegal aliens” to be human or subhuman?
Secretary Nielsen: Illegal aliens are human, sir.
Rep. Johnson: Do you believe these illegal aliens approaching our southern border are in search of safety and security primarily or primarily in search of a job?
Secretary Nielsen: What we find with the flow, the most current flow over the last couple of years, are the vast majority either economic migrants or they’re looking to reunify with their families.
Rep. Johnson: Do you believe that DHS was prepared to implement your family separation policy when it went into effect?
Secretary Nielsen: Sir, we never had a policy for family separation. What we did do is applied the law equally to anybody who broke it and if you were an illegal crosser of the southwest border, to the extent we could, refer you for prosecution.
Rep. Johnson: You’re aware that both the DHS Inspector General and GAO (Government Accountability Office) concluded that DHS was inadequately prepared to implement the family separation policy in an organized and efficient manner? Are you familiar with that report?
Secretary Nielsen: I’m familiar with parts of the report, yes, sir.
Rep. Johnson: Do you agree with it or disagree?
Secretary Nielsen: I don’t agree with the premise of the question. We never had a policy nor do we now separate families as a policy.
Rep. Johnson: Let me ask you a simple question. When the decision was made to prosecute parents, it was DHS that physically separated the parent from his or her children. Is that correct?
Secretary Nielsen: If the parent was referred to prosecution and was going to a criminal setting, we do not send the children with the parent at that time.
Rep. Johnson: How is it possible that your agency performed a separation policy when it did not have an ability to keep adequate records for eventual reunification of parent and child?
Secretary Nielsen: So, each parent in our custody did have access to communicating with their children.
Rep. Johnson: How was it that you were able to implement the policy without having a means of being able to reunite children with their parents?
Secretary Nielsen: We did have a means. What we have done is improved it so it’s much more expedited and the technical system.
Rep. Johnson: At one point, DHS and HHS announced the existence of a central database containing location information for separated parents and minors. You’re familiar with that announcement?
Secretary Nielsen: We have updated all of our systems.
Rep. Johnson: Well, are you familiar with that announcement when it was made?
Secretary Nielsen: There's quite a few systems. You might be referring to the one from June.
Rep. Johnson: The IG found no evidence that a database ever existed.
Secretary Nielsen: There is a database. We knew where all the children and parents were. >>
Rep. Johnson: Do you disagree with that IG report?
Secretary Nielsen: I don’t have the language in front of me. I’m happy to get back to you specifically. What I can tell you is ice has a database, CBP has a database and the Department of Health and Human Services also has a database.
Rep. Johnson: But there was no database containing location information for separated parents and minors?
Secretary Nielsen: Again, we did know with each individual agency.
Rep. Johnson: Are you trying to say that there has been no problem with your agency reuniting parents and children separated at the border in accordance with your separation policy?
Chairman Goodlatte: The time of the gentleman has expired. The witness will be permitted to answer the question.
Secretary Nielsen: We’ve worked very closely with the court.
Rep. Johnson: You’ve avoided answering my questions.
Chairman Goodlatte: The time of the gentleman has expired. The time of the gentleman has expired.
Rep. Johnson: I would note for the chairman.
Chairman Goodlatte: Regular order.
Rep. Johnson: Every other member has been allowed to proceed with their questionings for more than the five minutes that I was given and so I take it as a compliment that (you’ve cut me off).
Chairman Goodlatte: The gentleman’s time has expired. Just say that’s true of everyone before you except for me, and I’m going to enforce it. Now, we gave you the opportunity to ask your question beyond your time.
Rep. Johnson: I want the record to reflect I was not able to get a specific answer to any of the questions that I asked.